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Can I notarize a document that is already signed?

by American Association of Notaries
Many notaries are presented with a document that is already signed and aren't sure whether or not they can proceed. This question can be answered by reviewing the two basic notarial acts: acknowledgments and oaths.

An acknowledgment is a declaration by the signer of a document that he or she has executed the document freely and voluntarily. Since the signer is only acknowledging his or her signature, the signature could have been affixed some days, weeks, months, or even years earlier. As long as the signer is personally present before the notary and acknowledges the signature, then the notary can proceed with performing the notarial act.

A notary's certificate of acknowledgment should always reflect the date on which the signer personally appeared before the notary. When notating the transaction in your journal, you should list both the date of the notarial act (the date on which the signer appeared before you), and the date of the document (the date the document was actually signed).

An oath or affirmation requires that the signer appear before you, swear or affirm to the truthfulness of the statements made in the document, and sign the document in your presence. This is evidenced by the words "subscribed before me" which are present in many jurats notarial certificates. When a person takes an oath, their signature signifies the acceptance of it. For this reason, it is necessary to observe the person appearing before you affix his or her signature to the document. If the document has already been signed, the signer can sign his or her name again above or next to the first signature. You can then proceed with the notarization. You may want to notate in your journal that the signer was instructed to sign again in your presence.

Of course, always refer to your own state's laws for the most accurate and up to date information for your state.

-- Robert T. Koehler, Florida Notary Educator, is a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.
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